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Traditional Military Funerals

by Sarah Hill

in Funerals

Just as different cultures have developed their own burial traditions, the US military has their own set of customs. These traditions are meant to honor all veterans. Rank does not matter nor does the length of time the veteran served nor if they died in battle or of other causes. All veterans are eligible for a military funeral as long as they weren’t discharged dishonorably. A standard military service consists of several parts including a flag-draped casket, flag folding, firing three volleys over the grave, and “Taps.”

Since the late 18th century and the Napoleonic Wars, caskets of veterans have been draped with the flag of the USA. It is draped in a way that the blue of the flag is placed over the head and left shoulder of the deceased.

The flag is not buried, instead it is folded and presented to the family. The flag is not allowed to touch the ground, and the way the flag is folded is very important. Each of the twelve folds represents something different:

1. Life

2. Eternal life

3. Remembrance of the Veteran

4. The weaker nature of humans in comparison to God

5. A tribute to our country

6. For where our hearts lie, because it is with our hearts we pledge allegiance to the flag.

7. A tribute to our armed forces

8. A tribute to one who entered the valley of the shadow of death, that humanity might see the light of day

9. A tribute to Motherhood

10. A tribute to Fatherhood

11. A representation of the lower potion of the seal of King David and King Solomon

12. An emblem of eternity

The resulting triangle has it’s stars facing up in representation of America’s motto “In God We Trust.” The folded flag is then presented to the next of kin by an honor guard. The person who presents the flag recites the statement, “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, or Air Force), and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation of your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

The tradition of firing three volleys over the grave originates from the European dynastic wars when this would signify the start of the battle after a halt in fighting to remove the dead and wounded from the battlefield. In most cases, a rifle is used and, on command, the firing party fire three times in unison.

“Taps” is a tune traditionally played at military funerals as well as flag ceremonies and some Boy Scout/Girl Scout meetings or camps. The history of “Taps” is complex as it is said to be derived from an earlier tune known as “Scott Tattoo.” There are also many different lyrics to the song. Since there are no official lyrics, the tune will vary with each event. A popular verse is:

“Day is done, gone the sun,

From the hills, from the lake,

From the sky.

All is well, safely rest,

God is nigh.”

Depending on rank, there may be additional honors presented at the funeral. Although each military funeral is unique, these traditions have evolved over time and are in place to honor each and every veteran who fought for this country.

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